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Only Tablets I - XI of the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic feature for the purpose of
a narratological analysis. The reasons for this were put forward in chapter 2 of
this thesis: Tablets I - XI narrate events that have a bearing on one another.
Furthermore, these events begin and end on the same place, on the walls of
Uruk. This chapter appropriates Genette's (1980) model for a narratological
analysis to the Standard Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic.
Narrative, story, narrating
According to Genette (1980:25-27) narrative (French recit) has three different
meanings. The first obvious reference is to the narrative statement, also called
the narrative. This denotes the discourse itself, oral or written, which recounts a
series of events. Narrative statement, or plainly narrative pertains to the very
words of the text, whether they are written down or whether they are recited
aloud. These are the cuneiform signs on the broken tablets of the Standard
Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic.
Secondly there are events that succeed one another, also called the story.
These events could be either real or fictitious, and have bearing on what
happened from the beginning to the end. The way in which these events are
recounted - whether they follow one another chronologically or whether the
order is interrupted in some way or another - is not taken into account. The
story of Gilgamesh (in the Standard Babylonian Version) starts with what he did
in Uruk, continues successively with all the events that followed, and ends with
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his return to his city. The story in this sense refers to the history outside of the
text but which gave rise to the text: what really happened and when?
Thirdly someone is needed to recount the event, also called narrating. This
implies the action of telling, and pertains to the narrating instance. Who is
telling about Gilgamesh and how is it done?
Bal (1986:13-15) elaborates on similar distinctions which she calls tekst (i.e. the
narrative statement), geschiedenis (i.e. the story), and verhaal (i.e. narrating).
However, as far as the latter is concerned, she stresses more the way in which
the events are recounted rather than the action of telling of the events. Thus, in
a very basic sense a narrative analysis should bear in mind (i) what is actually
said or written, (ii) the actual sequence of the events that are recounted, and
(iii) who is telling the story and in what way.
An analysis of narrative discourse is constantly aware of the different aspects of
narrative, but has to remember that they are intimately interrelated (Bal
1986:15; Genette1980:27). Although the aspects are taken apart and examined
individually for the purpose of analysis, they cannot be separated from one
Analysis of narrative discourse: tense, mood, and voice
Genette (1980:31) chooses three classes of determinations in which to
organise the analysis of a narrative discourse.
Tense deals with temporal
relations between narrative and story. Mood deals with forms and degrees of
narrative representation. Voice deals with the way in which the narrating is
connected to the narrative. Voice thus has bearing on the interrelationships
between both narrating/narrative and narrating/story. However, voice pertains
not only to the narrator or to the narrating instance, but also to the addressees,
real or implied. Tense and mood both come into play at the level of
interrelationships between story and narrative. These rather confusing inter
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relationships will become clearer in their appropriation to the narratological
analysis of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Tense: order, duration, and frequency
Under the heading of Time or Tense Genette (1980) discusses the following
Order, Duration and Frequency.
Also these categories will be
discussed and applied to the Epic of Gilgamesh where they are relevant.
2.1.1. Order
Genette (1980:35) explains as follows:
Order determines the connections
between the succession of events in the story and the way in which they are
arranged in the narrative (i.e. the pseudo-temporal arrangement).
A story
usually consists of significant events that follow one another successively.
When the succession of events in the story corresponds to the order in which
they are recounted in the narrative, it is simply a matter of chronological time.
That is to say, the order of the narrative discourse indicates more or less clearly
the order of the story events. However, this is seldom the case in narratives. A
perfect temporal correspondence between narrative and story exists very rarely
in narrative discourse.
More often than not, the chronological succession of events is interrupted in
some way or another. Anachrony is the term Genette (1980:35&36) uses to
indicate the various types of discordance between the story and the narrative.
The most common way for interrupting a narrative is by means of inserting
events that happened a long time ago, or by means of creating anticipation for
what is to come.
In this regard Genette (1980:40) chooses to avoid the
traditional terms like anticipation or retrospection in order to describe the way in
which the narrative is being interrupted, as these may be subjective
phenomena. He uses prolepsis (for) “any narrative manoeuvre that consists of
narrating or evoking in advance any event that will take place later; analepsis
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(for) any evocation after the fact of an event that took place earlier than the
point in the story where we are at a given moment and ... anachronism to
designate all forms of discordance between the two temporal orders of story
and narrative...” (Genette 1980:40).
In other words, and drastically
oversimplified, prolepses pertain to what may happen, analepses pertain to
what has happened, and anachrony is a total mix up of all the tenses and
times in both story and narrative.
So, anachronies are inserted into and disrupt the primary narrative (Genette
In this way a second narrative is created.
First and second
are Genette’s way to distinguish different temporal levels of
narrative. However, it is important to note that the denotations first and second
narratives do not indicate that one is more important than the other (cf. Genette
1988:28&29); on the contrary, second narratives are extremely valuable for
understanding the first one.
Furthermore, anachronies consist of a reach and of an extent (Genette 1980:
From the moment of interruption in the narrative discourse, an
anachrony may reach into the past or into the future, that is, what did happen or
what is going to happen. Anachronies also cover a duration of story, that is,
how long did the event last, or how long is it going to last. This is called the
extent of the analepsis or of the prolepsis.
In other words, order has to do with the interruption of the primary narratives by
one or more secondary narratives. The latter has bearing on events that
happened either a long time before or a long time after the former, or on events
that are taking place simultaneously with those that are being narrated in the
first instance. These secondary narratives have their own narratological time
span, or extent, and they usually influence the primary narrative in some
significant manner.
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A tense moment in the Standard Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic:
the opening line
The opening line of the Epic poses a serious problem: the transliterations of
Parpola and George differ significantly. As I have stated, these kinds of
differences do not affect the narrative as such, however, this very first one has
implications for a structural narratological analysis.
Parpola (1997) reconstructs this first line as follows:
ša nagba īmuru lušēdi māti
According to this rendering the parsing of lušēdi is the s-stem of the verb
idû(m): to know. The preposing particle lu together with the preterite expresses
a desired action. In Old Babylonian it occurs with the first person singular (li- in
third person singular and plural when it unites with the initial vowel of the verbal
form)(see Caplice 1988:40; Von Soden 1969:105-106).
Consequently the first line reads - according to Parpola’s transliteration:
I:1 ša nagba īmuru lušēdi māti Of the Deep that he saw, I must tell the land
According to this transliteration, the Epic of Gilgamesh (Standard Babylonian
Version, from now abbreviated SBV) seems to be an analepsis and a prolepsis
simultaneously from its very beginning. Although strictly speaking the first
narrative is not interrupted, it also has not started yet. But the story that is
about to be told, happened a long time ago. This anachrony reaches into the
past and into the future, and is introduced by a narrating instance: I. Someone
(I) is going to tell of events that occurred before his (my) time. (Denning-Bolle
[1992:47] also translates the first line as He who saw everything I want to make
known to my land.)
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This narrating instance disappears from the scene immediately after I:1, and
never does he utter the words I remember..., in fact, he plays no part in the
story or in the narrative at all. The analepsis and prolepsis are both impersonal
- in this sense Genette’s categories are certainly more useful than anticipation
or retrospection. This is not a personal remembrance: the person concerned is
out of the events that occurred, he is only about to disclose them. He is also
not disclosing an event that will take place later: what is going to happen is the
narrative itself. The narrative is not a remembrance of past things: what is
going to occur, is vivid in the present.
Past, present and future meet at the walls of Uruk. Genette (1980) does not
have a separate category for place; he prefers to incorporate the significance of
location into his analyses of time, mood and voice. Nevertheless, the city of
Uruk, especially the walls are of major importance in the Epic of Gilgamesh
In the prologue the narrator who remains an anonymous voice for the
rest of the narrative, invites a (anonymous) narratee to come and have a stroll
on the top of these magnificent walls, to look down on the city and its
surroundings, and to admire the beauty and splendour of everything (I: 16-21).
In the closing lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) king Gilgamesh himself
invites the boatman Urshanabi to do exactly the same (XI: 315-320).
From the top of these walls an analepsis is triggered and is sustained - albeit
unnoticed - throughout the whole narrative until it catches up with its own past:
the present of king Gilgamesh. Thus, one ends up exactly where one started:
on the walls of Uruk.
But the prologue is also a prolepsis, pertaining to events after the return of the
king (I: 1- 45). It tells of Gilgamesh as a good king, one who is brave and wise,
and it refers to a wisdom acquired only after he had seen the Deep. On the
other hand, the Epic itself tells of a young and arrogant king who abuses his
power brutally, who acts unwisely an immature, who becomes confused and
frightened after the death of his friend, and who goes in search for something
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which every reader instinctively knows, is a futile quest. Only after he accepts
that he had lost, only after failing miserably every test for acquiring life eternal,
he returns to his city as the mature and sober ruler to whom the prologue
refers. Thus, also the prolepsis is continued and sustained throughout the
narrative. Gilgamesh is back in Uruk, he has learnt a hard lesson, but now he
is ready to reign as king in a more mature way.
True enough, in a technical sense the prologue is neither a true analepsis nor a
true prolepsis. Both analepses and prolepses are supposed to interrupt the first
narrative with a second one (Genette 1980:48). But somehow past, present and
future seem to merge on the walls of Uruk to create a kind of timelessness,
already at the very beginning of the Epic.
George (2003:538) transliterates the first line of the Epic as follows:
ša nagba īmuru išdī māti
he who saw the Deep, the foundation of the country
In this case išdī simply refers to the foundation of the country. George adheres
to a conservative interpretation. He admits that the basis of the country (:445)
may be interpreted metaphorically, that it may refer to the Deep, therefore
agreeing with the abstract notion of wisdom. Furthermore, he also admits that
mātu is not a synonym of ereţu: the former signifies the land as a collection of
people whereas the latter indicates the earth as a concrete object. Thus, the
very first lines of the Epic could be read in an abstract, rather than in a literal
way: a kind of wisdom that is indispensable to all human beings, is at stake.
George bases his transliteration on convention. Apparently the expression išdī
māti was used to indicate the stability of the land or to keep the land stable
(George 2003:778). According to this transliteration the opening lines simply
form part of the summary of Gilgamesh’s achievements. They have nothing to
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do with the narrator’s personal interests in the matter. Therefore, George’s
transliteration is sober, less impressive, but perhaps more reliable.
I have seen these opening lines, and it really is impossible to discern whether
the second to last word should read lušēdi or išdī māti. Perhaps one should
leave this debate to scholars versed in cuneiform. George (2003:778) states:
Much fantasy has indeed been brought to bear on the text’s incipit, for the
situation has changed only very recently, with the discovery of RM 956, a new
piece of MS d. This fragment demonstrates that for the past century, ever since
Haupt’s copy identified the first line on MS B3 as SB I 1, readers of the epic
have been telescoping into one couplet what is in fact two parallel
couplets...Though some ideas put forward for these opening lines are more
attractive than others, there is often little to choose between them. It also
remains eminently possible in each case that none of them is right. The
recovery of I.1 is a case in point, for none of the many suggestions had come
close to išdī māti, and we are reminded how perilous it is to restore all but the
most predictable lines of this poem. In many lines, here and elsewhere, I thus
prefer to leave open to the question of restoration.
Thus, it seems that one guess is as good as another. I would be inclined to
agree with George’s more conservative approach, however, Parpola’s
rendering certainly provides a much more romantic and imaginative reading of
the Epic. But this section deals with a structural analysis and not with a readerorientated one, therefore the validity of the two readings and the reliability of the
different sources will not be discussed further.
Analepses can become quite complex. Genette (1980:49) distinguishes an
external, an internal and a mixed analepsis. An external analepsis is one
“whose entire extent remains external to the extent of the first narrative”. Thus,
the external analepsis reaches back before the starting point of the narrative
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and also ends before that. An internal analepsis falls within the extent of the
first narrative, reaching back later than the starting point and may or may not
catch up with the point in the narrative where it originated. A mixed analepsis
reaches back to a point earlier than the starting point of the narrative and its
extent arrives at a point later than the beginning of the first narrative.
External and internal analepses function in different ways for the purpose of
narrative analysis.
External analepsis
External analepses do not meddle with the first narrative. Their function is only
to inform the reader about something that had happened before.
napishtim’s recount of the Deluge qualifies as an external analepsis: the whole
cataclysm occurred long before Gilgamesh became king of Uruk. However, its
function is not only to inform the reader about the flood. It also stresses the
whole matter of Gilgamesh’s futile search for immortality. The Deluge was a
unique event that gave one human family - Uta-napishtim and his wife - the
opportunity to live forever. The story of the flood is Uta-napishtim’s, it has
nothing to do with Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh cannot benefit from what happened
long ago. He, like all other human beings are born to die someday. There is
no way that this fate can be averted. Thus the informative function of this
second narrative is loaded with meaning that extends beyond the scope of the
whole Epic: it pertains to life itself.
Internal analepsis
Internal analepses are somewhat more problematical.
These second
narratives are embedded in the temporal field of the first narrative, therefore
they might interfere with it by means of collision or redundancy (Genette
1980:50). Genette (1980:51&51), distinguishes between internal heterodiegetic
and internal homodiegetic analepses.
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Internal heterodiegetic analepsis
Internal heterodiegetic analepses are “analepses dealing with a story line (and
thus with a diegetic content) different from the content (or contents) of the first
narrative” (Genette 1980:50). This means that the second narrative differs from
the first one, although they coincide temporally. These internal heterodiegetic
analepses do not normally interfere with the story line of the first narrative, as
their usual function is to shed light on the past of a character that has been
introduced recently, or on one who has been out of sight for some time.
The Epic of Gilgamesh does have a few such internal heterodiegetic
analepses. Enkidu becomes human after he and Shamhat made love for six
days and seven nights, apparently without stop. Thereafter his earlier friends,
the animals reject him and he returns to Shamhat to learn his purpose in life.
She tells him that he is to go to Uruk to meet king Gilgamesh.
immediately wants to challenge the king and show him who is the stronger one,
but Shamhat remembers the two dreams that Gilgamesh had. She recalls that
Gilgamesh had these dreams before Enkidu came down from the hills, and
when he woke up, he told his mother what he had dreamed (I:226-241; I:259264): heavy objects fell from the heaven and he was unable to pick them up.
What is interesting in this case is that the distinction between first and second
narrative becomes rather unclear. From the very beginning the first narrative
proposed to record the story of king Gilgamesh of Uruk. But at some stage in
spontaneously and without any abrupt interruptions part of a first narrative: the
creation of Enkidu and his existence on the steppe until the prostitute came to
change everything. The internal heterodiegetic analepses - the dreams - are
occurring now as though they are interrupting a seemingly primary narrative.
The contents are different from the present story line.
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However, the events that are remembered have a bearing on what really is the
first narrative -
the story of Gilgamesh.
In the nearby future the
Shamhat/Enkidu episode will once again blend smoothly and unproblematically
with the Gilgamesh-narrative and becomes so part of it, that one wonders
whether this constitutes a second narrative at all.
These heterodiegetic analepses are inserted back into the primary narrative
where they do actually belong when Gilgamesh and Enkidu meet and fight like
young bulls. However, after this initial clash, they become firm friends. But at
some stage during the friendship, Enkidu becomes depressed. At seeing his
friend becoming depressed, Gilgamesh suggests that they go down to the
Cedar Forest to slay Humbaba. Rather panic-stricken Enkidu remembers the
earlier days when he had actually encountered the presence of the monster
(II:170-174). This remembrance is also an internal heterodiegetic analepsis:
Enkidu’s early days, although they coincide temporally with the story line of
Gilgamesh, play no significant part in the Epic, and they have a different
content altogether. Very little detail is given about these days, except that
Enkidu lived and grazed like an animal. Now, by means of a chiastic structure
this remembrance that is only Enkidu’s, is repeated as an urgent warning
(II:189-193): Humbaba is extremely dangerous. In this way the initial internal
heterodiegetic analepsis is once again drawn into the first narrative and
becomes part of the story line.
Internal homodiegetic analepses
Internal homodiegetic analepses are “internal analepses that deal with the
same line of action as the first narrative” (Genette 1980:51).
(1980:51-54) distinguishes between completing
homodiegetic analepses.
and iterative internal
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Completing internal homodiegetic analepsis
Simple ellipsis
Completing analepses fill in “gaps” in the narrative by means of simple ellipses,
or “breaks” in the temporal continuity
(Genette 1980:51).
Rephrased this
means that certain events are left out and remembered later to fill in those
missing “gaps” in time. If one - perhaps hypothetically - considers Gilgamesh’s
dreams now for the time being as part of the same narrative, one would have a
case of internal homodiegetic analepses which fill in the “gap” between
Gilgamesh’s terrorisation of his people and the coming of Enkidu. Despite his
arrogant attitude, Gilgamesh is rather lonesome and desperately longs for a
friend. Although he was chosen by the gods for this task, being king is a lonely
In the end it must be said that, considering these dreams as internal analepses
- whether they be hetero- or homodiegetic - is a hypothetical matter. The Epic
of Gilgamesh (SBV) is not very specific about time at all. For example, say the
tyranny of the city started in 2356 BCE, perhaps sometime during August and
Enkidu was created the following August in 2355 BCE.
Sometime later
Shamhat and Enkidu sat down and talked on a Sunday in June 2346 BCE.
Suddenly Shamhat remembered a dream that Gilgamesh had on another
Sunday night in June 2350 BCE that made her think. But nothing of the kind.
One can merely assume that Gilgamesh dreamed of Enkidu after the latter had
been created: one can merely assume that the creation of Enkidu took place
after the starting point of the Epic.
However, one runs into trouble if one tries to work out their ages. Then one
needs to assume otherwise, namely, that Gilgamesh, the very young child
dreamed about Enkidu, before his reign of terror started in Uruk. Everything
changes, and the dreams become pure external analepses, also fulfilling the
function of a prolepsis.
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The second type of a completing analepsis Genette (1980:52) calls a paralipsis.
Just like an ellipsis, a paralipsis also fills in “gaps”, however, in this case an
event or a person is deliberately sidestepped or not mentioned at all.
Paralipses usually pertain to traumatic events or to persons who caused these
events from a character’s past, events and people he or she wishes to forget
because the memories are too painful. It is very difficult to ascertain whether
the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) contain any paralipses. There are certainly many
gaps: perhaps the closest one can get to a paralipses is the many references
Gilgamesh makes in Tablet VI to Ishtar’s misfortunate lovers. Obviously his
words brought back memories that she would rather forget, she was hurt and
insulted by what he had said. But, besides for the reference to Tammuz, the
reader is kept in the dark with regards to the other painful events. Presumably
the ancient recipients knew what they were.
Nevertheless, there do not appear to be deliberate repressions of other painful
experiences. A trauma like Enkidu’s untimely death is openly lamented: in fact,
Gilgamesh’s elegy is repeated time and again - as the next section will
Iterative internal homodiegetic analepsis
Iterative internal homodiegetic analepses are also called repeating analepses
(Genette 1980: 54). These ellipses deal with several portions of elapsed time
as if they were alike. In Genette’s discussion (cf. Genette 1980:53-61) it
becomes obvious that the nouveau roman appropriates this device for different
purposes than ancient literature did. However, the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV)
does have significant repetitive recalls.
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After the death of Enkidu, Gilgamesh roams the plains on his way to Utanapishtim, in search of everlasting life.
He passes through the tunnel of
Shamash/the sun, and he reaches the seashore where Siduri the barmaid lives.
She inquires after his mission,
and he gives her a very long explanation:
his friend whom he loved dearly,
and with whom he did several
remarkable heroic deeds, had died tragically (X:48-75).
This is exactly the
same explanation that he gives to Urshanabi, the boatman of Uta-napishtim
(X:122-146 - lines 64,69 and 73 are omitted in the reply to Urshanabi). And this
reply is repeated to Uta-napishtim (X:221-248).
Gilgamesh’s repetitive answer stresses his obsessive thoughts on death and
dying, his obsession with everlasting life. To every question he has only one
answer that actually becomes quite boring after a while. But he really has
nothing else to say. In this regard Genette (1980:54) points out that these
repeating analepses may become redundant. This is a valid question as one
does become fed-up with Gilgamesh who is unable to snap out of it.
Nevertheless, these repetitions do stress his pain over his deceased friend and
also the obsessive-compulsive nature of his reasoning.
But another thing is brought to the foreground: his perspective has changed.
Those heroic deeds - slaying Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven, hunting down
lions - which he used to boast about, are now painful reminiscences. Life
without Enkidu has no meaning at all. Driven by sorrow and his fear for death,
the only way to continue for Gilgamesh is by means of conquering death itself.
He needs to obtain everlasting life. But he fails to see the paradox: if it would
become possible for him to live forever, he would have to do so without Enkidu
anyway. Perhaps the fear would gradually diminish and eventually go away,
but the sorrow would remain. Gilgamesh rejects the advice given him by the
barmaid and Uta-napishtim,
advice that boils down to: death is inevitable.
Gilgamesh, you are going to die, sooner or later. But in the meanwhile, until
that fateful event occurs, you are alive, you have a life that needs to be lived
an even to be enjoyed whilst it lasts.
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Mixed analepsis
A last question Genette (1980:61) asks with regard to analepses pertains to
mixed analepses, to the way in which analepses interrupt and then rejoin the
first narrative. A partial analepsis ends on an ellipsis without rejoining the first
narrative. Thus, there is a “gap” between the end of the analepsis and the
beginning of the first narrative. If one assumes that Gilgamesh dreamed about
Enkidu whilst he was merely an infant - that is before the starting point of the
Epic - there is a portion of his life about which nothing is known, therefore an
ellipsis. The intervening period of his growing up, or the way in which he
became king is seemingly not relevant to the Epic at all. (But this reasoning
would not apply to the assumption that Gilgamesh dreamed about Enkidu after
he became king of Uruk, because in this case the dream becomes an internal
homodiegetic analepsis.)
A complete analepsis is an external one which rejoins the first narrative and
becomes part of the narrative discourse without any “gap” between the ends of
the analepsis and the beginning of the narrative. In other words, the external
analepsis overlaps with the starting point of the narrative.
This type of
analepsis does not feature in the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, if his growing
up years had been recounted, perhaps explaining why his reign became one of
terror in its early years, this might have been a case of complete analepsis.
But the early years of Gilgamesh remain a mystery.
Genette (1980:67) states that “anticipation, or temporal prolepsis, is clearly
less frequent than the inverse figure, at least in Western narrative tradition”,
but admits that “each of the three great early epics, the Iliad, the Odyssey and
the Aeneid begins with a sort of anticipatory summary that to a certain extent
justifies the formula Todorov applied to the Homeric narrative: plot of
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Obviously Genette has not heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh
(SBV), furthermore this narrative is not really a plot of predestination, and the
prologue (I:1-45)
is not only an anticipatory summary.
The narrator does
propose to make known to all and everyone everything that Gilgamesh has
learnt (Parpola, I:1-2), it is about to tell about his search into faraway regions,
the difficult paths that he had trod, his discovery of what had been before the
Deluge, the secrets of ancient times, and his heroic manner of conducting
battle. It is even going to tell of his encounter with Uta-napishtim. Yet this is a
tale of the past, what is to be disclosed is not going to take place, everything
happened a long time ago. Therefore it should be noted once again that the
prologue of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) is neither purely proleptic nor purely
analeptic, but rather a unique mixture of both.
Prolepses hold the same distinctions as analepses. Prolepses are internal,
external or mixed (Genette 1980:68)
External prolepsis
External prolepses reach beyond the scope of the first narrative - in other
words, these would pertain to episodes that take place after the closing point of
the story, and they do not interfere with the first narrative. Thus the prologue
of the Epic of Gilgamesh - if one does not merely regard this as an anticipatory
summary - qualifies as a type of external prolepsis
(cf. the discussion under
the heading anachrony): only after Gilgamesh saw the Deep, he became the
wise and mature king who is lauded in the prologue. But besides the prologue,
nothing else is recorded about these prosperous years of reign.
Internal prolepsis
Internal prolepses, just like internal analepses do interfere with the story line of
the first narrative.
In this regard
the category of internal heterodiegetic
prolepsis is not applicable, for whether anticipation is external or internal, it
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would have a different interest than the first narrative. As far as internal
homodiegetic prolepses are concerned,
Genette (1908:71) differentiates
between completing and repeating prolepses.
Completing prolepsis
Completing prolepses “fill ahead of time a later blank” (Genette 1980:71). In a
very uncertain sense Enkidu’s vision of hell (VII:165-202) may qualify as an
example of such a prolepsis. As Enkidu lies dying, he has a dream in which he
is seized by a bird-like, beast-like young man who drags him down to the
Netherworld. If one disregards tablet XII as part of the Epic, Enkidu’s time
after his death is filled in by this episode.
Repeating prolepsis
Most of the prolepses in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) are in the form
of dreams and fall into Genette’s category of “those that - still ahead of time double, however slightly, a narrative section to come (repeating prolepses)”
(Genette 1980:71). This appears to be more intricate than it seems at first,
because Genette (1980:75) also states that true prolepses do create
anticipation and should not be confused with advance notices and advance
mentions. Especially because one is dealing with an ancient text like the Epic
of Gilgamesh, and especially because Akkadian is not one’s first language, it
is very difficult to ascertain the exact notice of each utterance. What seems to
be an anticipation for one person, may just as well be an advance notice for
another. Therefore, unfortunately one has to guess.
So, back to the dreams of Gilgamesh whilst Shamhat is instructing Enkidu on
his purpose in life: to befriend the restless young king of Uruk. Gilgamesh
dreamed of Enkidu some time ago,
and his mother,
the clever and wise
Ninsun, explained these dreams: some time in the future, he is to meet a
loyal and trustworthy friend, in her eyes, his equal (I:250-255; I:267-269). At
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this stage the reader is not supposed to know that Gilgamesh and Enkidu are
going to become blood brothers. Gilgamesh has just been portrayed by the
narrator as the arrogant young king who abuses his power: the women have in
the meanwhile prayed for the creation of his double in order to have his energy
curbed. Enkidu is the answer to their prayers, but no one knows for certain
what the result will be when Enkidu does meet Gilgamesh and challenge his
strength. Ninsun’s explanation, although she is a goddess, still has to be put
to the test. Therefore, in these instances anticipation is created, and these
passages do qualify as internal completing prolepses.
However, not all dreams are internal completing prolepses. The next series of
dreams are the ones that Gilgamesh has as he and Enkidu travel towards the
Cedar Woods to slay Humbaba (tablet IV). Every time that they pitch camp for
the night, they perform rituals in order to provoke a dream, however, for
Gilgamesh these dreams turn out to be nightmares. He relates his dreams to
Enkidu, who tells him soothingly every time that he has nothing to worry about,
and that everything will work out just fine.
The first question one needs to ask, is whether or not Gilgamesh’s recounting
of his dreams could also be regarded as analepses as well. The answer is no.
The lapse of time between the event and its recall is simply too short.
Gilgamesh vividly remembers the dream as he wakes up shivering and upset.
The same argument holds for the dream Enkidu has about his own death.
These dreams are recounted as soon as they happened, therefore they have
the sense of the immediate presence rather than an aspect of retrospective
However, these five dreams of Gilgamesh in tablet IV do create anticipation:
the reader is aware of the ferocious nature of the monster, and is also aware of
the fact that the two heroes are acting against the will of the god Enlil who
appointed Humbaba to guard the Cedar Woods.
Ninsun has asked
Shamash for the protection of her son (II:42-56), but will he do so? Anything
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might still happen.
This feeling of anticipation increases when Shamash
himself urges the two heroes to hurry towards the woods (IV:192-197) and
carry out their intentions. It is almost as though the combat has taken on
cosmic dimensions, a struggle between two gods who use the heroes and the
monster as their pawns: Gilgamesh and Enkidu on the side of Shamash, and
Humbaba on the side of Enlil.
The last matter of prolepsis concerns Enkidu’s dream about his own death.
Whether this is a true prolepsis can be doubted, because once again, very
soon after he realises the implication of his dream, he becomes ill.
Nevertheless, one cannot know how many days, weeks, and months or even
years elapsed between VII:1 and VII:162 - that is from the beginning of the
dream until the illness becomes full-blown.
cursing all and everyone,
In between Enkidu becomes
unwilling to accept his fate.
reprimanded by Shamash, he withdraws his curse on Shamhat. Only after that
does he become really ill. Nevertheless, this passage does not seem to create
the same sense of anticipation, because this dream comes true fairly quickly
after it is recounted.
And it comes rather as a shock: after Gilgamesh and
Enkidu slew Humbaba, after they killed the Bull of Heaven, the gods decide
that one of them shall die - an untimely and tragic end to a sincere and deep
Therefore this dream does not create anticipation,
one should
rather say it gives a sad advance notice.
Genette (1980:83) defines achronies as “proleptic analepses” and “analeptic
prolepses”, paraphrased as follows: “It would happen later as we have already
seen,” or: “It had already happened, as we shall see later.” The initial remarks
on the prologue of the Epic of Gilgamesh pointed out that it is an analepsis and
a prolepsis at the same time, however, also that it does not qualify as a true
example of either, therefore it is not a case of true achrony. Although the
narrator appears to be saying “it had already happened as we shall see later”,
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that which had happened is what he is going to tell about: the story that is
going to become the narrative. This is different from isolated events which are
being recalled and which will (or will not) interrupt the narrative at a later stage.
although the remote past becomes alive in the present of the
reader, and although the Epic does create a feeling of timelessness,
cannot really say that present, past and future become confused.
The ancient Epic of Gilgamesh succeeds in weaving its primary and secondary
narratives in a masterly manner by means of its different devices with regards
to order.
This happens in a remarkable spontaneous and natural manner.
Nothing is forced cerebrally. And that is exactly why it works. Together with the
narrator the narratee moves along the lines of the narrative, now here, then
there, sometimes in the middle of the action, sometimes outside and involved in
events that took place many years before, of those that will only realise in the
distant future.
2.1.2. Duration
Genette’s later work (1988) is in a sense a defence of and a commentary on his
earlier (1980) one. As far as duration is concerned, he notes that there are
some levels of duration that are virtually impossible to compare with one
another, therefore it is also impossible to ascertain the relationship between
any of these (cf. Genette 1988:33-34). To begin with, the story has a specific
duration: so many days, weeks, months or years, and so forth. These are
recounted in the text: so many pages (or tablets in the case of the Epic of
Gilgamesh [SBV]).
the text needs to be read: so many pages
(tablets) per hour. And due to the different circumstances and capabilities of
different readers, duration expressed in terms of these relationships is very
difficult, if not impossible.
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In his 1988 work, Genette (1988:33) admits to a difference between an oral
and a written text. An oral narrative - literary or not - does have a measurable
duration: how long does it take to recite the narrative? The first oral Sumerian
poems of Gilgamesh must have had a duration that perhaps could have been
As far as the later versions are concerned - the Old Babylonian
Version and the Standard one - it is still unclear whether these were recited
loudly or merely read or copied out quietly. However, even oral durations
cannot be fixed for the simple reason that one person speaks slower or faster
than another one. Even quoting dialogue into the narrative that is the closest
one can get to the actual duration in the story, poses this problem (Genette
1980:87). So, the only way to measure the reading of the Epic of Gilgamesh
is: how many clay tablets per hour, per day or even per week - a matter which
obviously would vary greatly according to the reading skills in Akkadian of the
different readers. Consequently, for these very variable and undeterminable
Genette (1988:33-34) prefers to use the term pseudo-time.
Furthermore he proposes that his chapter in Narrative Discourse (1980) should
bear the heading Speed instead of Duration, or perhaps even Speeds, since
“no narrative moves forward at an entirely steady pace...” (Genette 1988:34).
Thus, duration examines the connections between the variable duration of the
story sections and the length of the text in which they are recounted (i.e. the
pseudo-duration): duration pertains to connections of speed. The rhythm of a
narrative is determined by the accordance or discordance between the duration
of the story sections and the pseudo-duration. For example, there is
considerable correspondence between dialogue in the story and its verbatim
report in the narrative. But on the other hand, an expression like for six days
and seven nights leaps over story-time within a few words to pleat time, as it
Finally Genette (1980:88) states: “ is hard to imagine the existence of a
narrative that would admit no variation in speed - and even this banal
observation is somewhat important: a narrative can do without anachronies,
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but not without anisochronies or, if one prefers (as one probably does), effects
of rhythm.”
Anisochrony pertains to the rhythm of narrative discourse,
the speed with
which it moves forward or slows down. Narrated time as compared to narrating
time -
that is the duration of the story set against the length of the text -
indicates the rhythm of narrative discourse. Genette (1980:95) distinguishes
four basic forms of narrative movement that he calls the four narrative
and ellipsis.
He postulates the
following scheme:
NT = n, ST = 0 Thus NT oo > ST
NT = 0, ST = n
Thus NT < oo ST
= story time; NT = pseudo-time of the narrative
oo > = infinitely greater than; oo < = infinitely smaller than
A summary is defined as “...the narration in a few paragraphs or a few pages of
several days,
months or years of existence,
without details of action or
speech” , (Genette 1980: 5&96). The narrative sums up what happened over a
relatively long period in a relatively short way.
Traditionally summaries
functioned as a “transition between two scenes, the background against which
scenes stand out,”
(Genette 1980:97).
summaries are necessary,
For the flow of the narrative,
they do not pertain to the dramatic
moments of action or events.
A typical summary would be something like: “The beautiful goddess Ninsun fell
in love with the young and handsome king Lugalbanda of Uruk. They married
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and had one son whom they called Gilgamesh. However, Lugalbanda died
tragically in a battle against Enmerbaragesi whilst his son was but a baby.
Gilgamesh grew up without the strict discipline of a father. His mother doted on
him since he was the living image of his father, so he turned out to be rather
something of a spoilt brat. Thus, when he was made king of Uruk, he started
his reign by abusing his power brutally.”
This type of summary seems absent in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Periods of time
are either left out by means of ellipses (discussion follows),
because they are totally irrelevant, or otherwise acceleration is evented by
means of scenes (see later).
Genette (1980:97) notices the absence of true
summaries also in Proust’s Recherche. Somehow, the ancient author just like
decided against the use of this literary device just because it is
available. Thus, it seems that many literary devices are at the disposal of
authors, but that creative authors are not compelled to use them all.
Pauses are traditionally those long descriptive passages in which no action
takes place, for example a description of a beautiful garden, the picture of a
landscape, or of the view of the snow on the mountains, and so forth. Strictly
speaking, a true pause is when an external narrator describes a picture “solely
for the information of his reader”, (Genette 1980:100). This implies that the
inward thoughts of a character are not really pauses, because the narrative
does not exactly come to a halt.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) does not have many such pauses. The closest
one gets to a pause is in the beginning of tablet V. Gilgamesh and Enkidu
completed the long journey towards the Cedar Forest, and have just arrived at
its entrance. They stand still to admire the beauty of the trees. One gets the
impression that a picture of beauty, peace and quiet is being created (V:1-16)
[this description may even continue,
but from line 11 the tablet is badly
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damaged, therefore it is impossible to ascertain exactly how long this pause
is]: the cedars are high, they decorate the slopes of the mountains where the
gods live, they joyfully cast their sweet shadows, elsewhere there are aromatic
smelling plants or shrubs.
But within this serene presentation, Humbaba’s
spoor (V:4) casts an ominous smudge. All is not what it seems: the proverbial
calm before the storm. Later on the picturesque beauty of the Cedar Forest
contrasts sharply with the ugly fight that takes place within: the fight between
Humbaba on the one hand, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu on the other.
This pause comes just after the long journey that comprises most of tablet IV.
Now the narrative needs to take a deep breath after a period of travelling a long
distance without stop, and before swinging back into action, before launching
the deathly attack.
Here the pause functions to
highlight contrasts: the
contrast between beauty and ugly; between stillness and movement.
initial dialogue between the men and the monster slowly but surely increases
the tension by postponing the moment of the violent attack. As has been said,
the text is badly damaged. However, the dialogue between Humbaba and the
heroes can be reconstructed from V:81 to approximately line 103. The fight
itself is described in V:115-126 - only eleven lines. Thereafter dialogue
functions in an opposite way by slowing
down the narrative as Humbaba
desperately pleads for his life. And then, within one single line, the monster is
Tablet VIII is perhaps an indication of a very long pause. It commences with
Gilgamesh who summons the whole of the land, the people, the animals, and
the animate and inanimate objects to mourn the death of his friend.
Everybody and everything pauses at the deathbed of Enkidu. Equally drawn out
are the elaborations on the various gifts that are prepared to accompany
Enkidu on his journey to the Netherworld. Enkidu has died. Everything must
come to a standstill until the proper burial rites had been carried out. This whole
tablet centres on the deceased Enkidu. One may conclude Tablet VIII, by
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means of this very long pause, marks a transition between youthful self-reliance
and the shocking realisation that even great accomplishments do not guarantee
an everlasting life. The ideal of establishing an everlasting name by means of
heroic deeds during one’s life is cancelled by the realisation that the very thread
of life is to be cut at some point or another.
pause or descriptive passage is at the end of tablet IX:175-195.
Gilgamesh has passed through the tunnel of Shamash/the sun and finds
himself at the seashore in the paradise where the trees and fruit are of semiprecious stone. This pause also functions to slow down the narrative, also
after a period of very fast and intense movement. Gilgamesh’s journey towards
this location was a desperate race against time. For eleven double hours he
rushed forth at a deadly pace, seeing only darkness behind and in front of him.
Suddenly he finds himself in bright daylight,
and not far off is a beautiful
paradise. Gilgamesh has time to catch his breath and admire his surroundings
before he proceeds on his journey towards Utnapishtim. This pause is also
followed by dialogue (the dialogue between Gilgamesh and Siduri), and then
by a fight - the fight Gilgamesh picks up with Urshanabi, the boatman. But
instead of being the hero, Gilgamesh turns out to be the fool this time: his only
success is the destruction of the Stone Things without which the boat cannot
pass the Waters of Death. And instead of beheading a monster that might have
killed him, he faces the inevitability of his own death.
Genette (1980:106 states: “From a temporal point of view, the analysis of
ellipses comes down to considering the story time elided”, that is, time in the
story not accounted for in narrative discourse. There are two types of ellipses:
definite ellipses and indefinite ellipses. Definite ellipses indicate the elided
time, for example: “Four years and two months later...” Indefinite ellipses do
not indicate temporal duration, for example, “Some years later...”
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Furthermore ellipses can be explicit (Genette 1980:106),
implicit (Genette
1980:108) or hypothetical (Genette 1980:109).
Explicit ellipsis
Explicit ellipses are either definite or indefinite and they pertain to the examples
mentioned above. The narrative discourse states explicitly that some story time
has passed; narrative time pleated itself over so many years, or some time.
On the whole the narrative of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) is not really
concerned about being specific on temporal elapses. Indications of time are
specified by means of bēru (George 2003:494): bēru is an ambiguous term for
it may indicate either a measure of time - usually translated with double hours or a measure of distance – then translated with league. In this regard one may
state that the Epic of Gilgamesh is explicit with regards to temporal elapses,
however, it is impossible to ascertain the exact duration. The other temporal
indication occurs in the expression for six days and seven nights. However, this
is rather an idiomatic utterance than one that has to do with a literal six days
and seven nights - for example, a week later will simply not carry the same
meaning as for six days and seven nights.
Implicit ellipsis
Implicit ellipses are mute (Genette 1980:108). The reader has to work out for
himself or herself that some indefinite time has elapsed, but can do so only
indirectly after becoming aware of some chronological gap in narrative
continuity. Ellipses of this kind do appear in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV), and
the most obvious examples are in tablet I.
Obviously a number of years had
gone by since Enkidu’s creation by the goddess Aruru (I:84&85), until the time
that he is spotted by the hunter (I:96).
Nothing is said about Enkidu’s
childhood, or of his growing up. Even if one assumes that he was created as a
young adult from the start, this is merely a guess, and even then, he could not
have been spotted by the hunter immediately after his creation: at least a day
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or two must have gone by. A period of Enkidu’s life is not accounted for - thus
an implicit and indefinite ellipsis.
Likewise, after the raucous party with the shepherds, Enkidu becomes their
friend who keeps watch at night, protecting their flock against wolves and lions
(II:44-52). Suddenly a young man who is on his way to Uruk appears in the
picture (II:53) and is questioned by Shamhat (on Enkidu’s request) to explain
what is going on (II:54-63). The next scene is the fight between Gilgamesh and
Enkidu in Uruk. Obviously Enkidu did not spend only one night at the camp of
the shepherds, and also one may assume that he would not simply rush off to
the big city without saying goodbye. Furthermore, the trip from the shepherds’
den to the centre of the city must have taken some hours at least, if not days or
even weeks. Once again there is a period of time not accounted for, therefore
an implicit and indefinite ellipsis.
The whole of tablet IV tells about the long and exhausting journey towards the
Cedar Forest.
Tablet V recounts the fight between the two friends and
Humbaba, and ends where Gilgamesh and Enkidu load their raft with wood
and with the head of Humbaba (V:253). In the next tablet they are suddenly
back in Uruk where the goddess Ishtar falls in love with Gilgamesh the moment
she sees him (VI:1-7). Although they travel back by river that is apparently
quicker than by land (why did they not do so in the first place?), the reader
does not know how long did this journey take:
An implicit and indefinite ellipsis.
There may be another one or two examples of this kind. However,
probably these literary devices were not deliberately applied by the ancient
author. Certainly, Enkidu’s early life before he became a human being was not
important to this author, likewise he considered the time Enkidu spent with the
shepherds and the time that it took to go to Uruk, irrelevant. Also the time that
it took to travel back by river from the Cedar Forest to Uruk,
is of no
significance. It must be kept in mind that this author had existing material at his
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disposal which he had to appropriate creatively in order to compose the Epic
(SBV): this narrative is all about Gilgamesh, and if a time passes during which
nothing significant happens, it is simply not worth the while to tell about it.
Traditionally a scene pertains to “the strong periods of the action coinciding with
the most intense moments of the narrative”, (Genette 1980:109). Scenes are
moments of dramatic actions described in an equal dramatic way. The Epic of
Gilgamesh (SBV) is mainly written in the form of dramatic scenes alternating
with dialogue.
The first half of the Epic contain episodes of dramatic action, all portrayed
intensely by means of scenes: Enkidu and Shamhat making love (I:171-177);
the party with the shepherds (II:35-49);
the fight between Gilgamesh and
Enkidu (II:77-98); the fight with Humbaba (V:115-126); the fight with the Bull of
Heaven (VI:145-152). Just like scenes, dialogues are supposed to be those
narrative sections where story time equals narrative time. Dialogue, in this first
half of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV),
slows down the pace of narrative
discourse, especially where long dialogues either precede or are followed by
descriptions of rapid action. The long conversations with Humbaba before and
after the fight (tablet V) are typical examples.
The second half of the Epic contains hardly any action.
Brief introductory
remarks and dialogue characterise this part. Enkidu dies in tablet VII.
Thereafter everything slows down. The pace of the narrative is drawn out
almost excruciatingly by means of dialogue that becomes like a monotonous
monologue as Gilgamesh laments Enkidu’s death. The only thing that really
happens is Gilgamesh roaming the plains in search of everlasting life. Tablet
VII starts with Enkidu’s dream (SBV) about his own death;
both he and
Gilgamesh verbalise their sorrow and fear by means of long dialogue. The
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whole of tablet VIII tells of Enkidu’s funeral, mainly in the words of Gilgamesh
as he calls up everybody to mourn his friend and prepare the various gifts for
Enkidu to keep the inhabitants of the Netherworld happy. Tablet IX poses a
problem: the lamentations of Gilgamesh remain, but apparently some action
takes place between lines 12-38 (before he meets the Scorpion People). After
having a dream, he takes up his axe and his sword again, (IX:13-16), but
what he does with them, is unclear. The text is broken, and some lines (2936) are completely missing. In tablet X there is one brief moment of action as
Gilgamesh tries to take Urshanabi by surprise (X:94-108). As Gilgamesh is
introduced to Uta-napishtim,
the latter philosophies about life and death
(X:266-327), and the most of tablet XI is Uta-napishtim’s recount of the Deluge
(XI:8-204). Gilgamesh fails the two tests for obtaining life eternal quickly and
decisively, and abruptly returns to Uruk.
this ancient narrative seems to have a concept of increasing or
decreasing time: the heroic times of Gilgamesh and Enkidu are short, sudden
and intense. Then, when Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh has too much time on
hands, and the worst of it all is that nothing happens during this time. He has
too much time to think. His obsessive thoughts drive him insane until he needs
to be shocked back into reality: he is going to die anyway. All that he has left,
is time, time during which he needs to work out a life which is meaningful for
himself and for others.
This life becomes visible on the walls of Uruk, a
concrete and tangible monument by which he shall be remembered. Somehow
he succeeded.
2.1.3. Frequency
Frequency has bearing on the relationships between the events that occur
repetitively in the story,
and the many times (or lack of it) that they are
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repeated in the narrative. In other words, this has to do with how many times
did something really happen, and how many times is it reported in the narrative.
Culler, in his foreword to Genette (1980:11) remarks: “Repetition, a common
form of frequency,
has emerged as the central technique in avant garde
Narrative frequency pertains to “the relations of frequency (or more
of repetition) between the narrative and the diegesis,” (Genette
1980:113). This means that an event in the story may happen once, twice, or
many more times. This event may be recounted in the narrative once, twice,
or many more times. In this way a relationship is established between the
repetition of story-events and the narrative statements
pertaining to these
events. In this regard Genette (1980:113) points out that “identical events” or
the “recurrence of the same event” is an abstract mental construction, because
every event is in fact unique, even the sun that rises everyday. Events are
considered similar only in terms of their resemblance.
Nevertheless he
(Genette 1980:114) reduces a system of relationships to four virtual types: “the
event repeated or not, the statement repeated or not.” This is expounded as
Narrating once what happened once (abbr. 1N/1S) (Genette 1980:114).
Example: “Yesterday I went to bed early.”
This is also called the singulative narrative because both narrative statement
and narrated event are singular and they correspond to each other. This is the
most common type of narration in narrative discourse that is also appropriated
in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV). The many scenes in the Epic fall into this
category: the fight between Gilgamesh and Enkidu; the fight with Humbaba;
the slaying of the Bull of Heaven,
and so forth. What happened once is
reported once only.
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Narrating n times what happened n times (nN/nS) (Genette 1980:114)
Example: “Monday I went to bed early.
Tuesday I went to bed early.
Wednesday I went to bed early.” (Genette 1980:115).
Strictly speaking this is also a singulative narrative because narrative
statements correspond to narrated events: however Genette (1980:115) prefers
to call this an anaphoric type of relationship. Singulative in this case pertains to
the matter of equality,
not to number: anaphoric relationships deal with
something that occurred more than once and is narrated more than once.
The repetitions in tablet IV in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) is an example of
such an anaphoric relationship. The journey towards the Cedar Forest takes
place in five stages: lines 1-20; 34-52 (line 6 is not repeated); 73-92; 109-129
(with the addition of line 113); 145-163. The same thing happens five times
consecutively: for three days they travel a long distance, apparently without
stopping. They pitch camp for the night and dig a well for some water. Then
Gilgamesh climbs to the top of the hillside, pours out some flour as an offering
and requests a dream from Shamash. Enkidu also performs some rituals and
eventually they fall asleep. In the middle of their sleep, Gilgamesh wakes up
trembling after a nightmare he has just had. The dream is different every time,
but the explanation is the same: it is a good omen.
Reading the same twenty lines five times over does become monotonous after
a while. However, it becomes clear that Gilgamesh and Enkidu are not having
a holiday or a pleasure trip for doing some sightseeing: they have one purpose
in mind namely to slay Humbaba. Therefore they need to get to the Cedar
Forest as fast as possible. The monotony of the journey and the set frame of
their minds are stressed by means of this technique: tablet IV is not exactly the
most exciting tablet in the Epic as nothing remarkable happens - they travel,
eat, sleep and dream - but the repetitions in the tablet does have a remarkable
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The same thing happens in tablet IX when Gilgamesh departs from the
Scorpion People to proceed through the tunnel of the (S)sun (IX:141-173). For
eight double-hours everything remains exactly the same: the thick tangible
darkness through which he races against time. However, in this series of
repetitions, there is a turning point: at the ninth double-hour he becomes aware
of the northern wind on his face (IX:165-166). The darkness is still the same
and does not allow him to look behind him, and the race is not over yet, but
things are about to change, hopefully for the better. Indeed, at the eleventh
double-hour he realises that he is ahead of the (S)sun (IX:171-172), and the
bright light appears at the twelfth double-hour (IX:173). By maintaining the
sameness of the circumstances for eight double-hours, a favourable turn from
the ninth one comes as a pleasant surprise.
Narrating n times what happened once (nN/1S) (Genette 1980:115)
“Yesterday I went to bed early;
yesterday I went to bed early;
yesterday I went to bed early.”
Genette (1980:115) calls this a repeating narrative,
and in this regard he
remarks: “This form might seem purely hypothetical, an ill-framed offspring of
the combinative mind, irrelevant to literature. Let us remember, however, that
certain modern texts are based on the narrative’s capacity for repetition” and
then he quotes examples from some of these modern texts. But the Epic of
Gilgamesh (SBV) uses exactly this device in Gilgamesh’s long lamentations as
he mourns the death of his friend, roaming the plains in search of everlasting
(see the discussion under the heading: iterative internal homodiegetic
analepsis). Enkidu died once - Gilgamesh tells about it over and over. Just like
the mentioned discussion points out, the recurring thoughts that pertain only to
one matter, stresses an obsession and irrational behaviour.
manifests a major depression. He neglects his appearance, he is unable to
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carry out his duties as king. He is driven by a flight from death towards a quest
for life eternal, both flight and quest are equally futile.
Narrating one time (or rather at one time)
what happened n times
(1N/nS) (Genette 1980:116).
Example: “Every day of the week I went to bed early” instead of “Monday I
went to bed early, Tuesday I went to bed early, Wednesday I went to bed
Genette (1980:116) calls this type of statement the
iterative narrative. It is
tempting to consider expressions which contain kaiānamma (the whole time
e.g. I:110&111), or 6 urrī 7 mūšī (6 days and 7 nights, e.g. I:177) may be a
form of iterative narrative. In the sense of the classical novel they certainly are:
they do function as an informative frame or background (Genette 1980:117),
therefore they are rather subordinate to singulative scenes. This happens to be
the case in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV). Genette (1980:118-160) goes into
much detail as far as iterative narration is concerned. Typical expressions are
each time that...or every now and then...which appear to be of great
significance, not merely functioning as a background for a scene. A typical
iterative novel would recount a series entitled something like Sundays in the
summer of 1890 (Genette 1980: 127): what used to happen every Sunday
during the summer months of 1980?
In Genette’s discussion of the iterative narrative (cf. Genette 1980:118-160), it
becomes clear that the ancient author does not appropriate this device with the
same significance as Proust (or any author of the nouveau roman). Apparently
seasons are irrelevant. The reader has to infer that Gilgamesh’s face that is
burnt by heat and by cold is due to the many seasons that he roamed the plains
(cf. the lamentations in tablet X). Days and months do play a role (cf. the trip
towards the Cedar Forest in tablet V), but not weeks. (For example, do six
days and seven nights constitute a week, or is it an idiomatic expression?)
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The Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) seems less concerned about what used to
happen every time or every now and then. It rather concentrates on what is
about to happen and what is about to change. Life is short and intense in the
first half of the Epic, but the implications of its brevity are not yet realised. In
the second half the Epic death becomes a reality, but life also: Gilgamesh
comes to the shocking insight that he has only one life, and that he has to
make it work, with or without Enkidu (in the final instance without his friend).
Probably he did pass the statue of his friend every Sunday; probably he did
have recurring thoughts every time that he passed this statue. Perhaps these
thoughts inspired him to be the wise and mature king who is lauded in the
prologue. But the ancient author had enough trust in the capabilities of his
reader to infer these possibilities, and therefore did not deem it necessary to
state everything explicitly.
Many literary devices are available to authors, whether they are post-modern
or ancient. But availability does not imply necessity. A literary device needs to
be functional for the narrative, otherwise it becomes a cerebral activity of which
only the author is aware. Competent authors have the ability to distinguish
between what is available and what is necessary. Neither Proust nor the author
or the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV)
used all of the available literary devices.
What is interesting is that the ancient author of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) did
not have the faintest clue about Genette (1980 & 1988); but somehow he was
instinctively aware of some aspects of narratological aesthetics. As far as time
is concerned (which is discussed in this chapter),
a remarkable sensitivity
manifests for significant interruptions, for increasing or decreasing the pace of
the narrative, and for repetitions. In this regard, one may conclude that the
Epic of Gilgamesh was a remarkable literary masterpiece for its time, but not
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only for its time. Modern readers are also able to appreciate the Epic by means
of modern literary criteria.
Genette (1980) pays considerable attention to the concept of time. Sternberg
(1990:914) remarks – rather sharply: For anything like artistic status “narrative”
must supposedly break away from the lifelike “story” because art works by
deviance and disharmony. In this article Sternberg (1990:901-945) criticises
structuralist theorists – and especially Genette – who over-emphasise the
appropriation of chronological interruptions in the story line, as though this
device is determinative for the artistic appreciation of a narrative. Does this
imply that a chronological narration – like a historical recount, for example – is
devoid of artistic narration? Sternberg (above) argues strongly against such an
impression. And indeed, he is correct. Simple narratives are often touching,
striking, exactly because they are told with the greatest simplicity.
Thus, the discussion above – and that which is to follow, do not wish to create
the impression that the Epic of Gilgamesh appeals to modern literary appraisal
mainly due to its intricate temporal or other literary structures. The appropriation
of Genette’s narrative model is rather to provide a tool that may contribute
towards a fresh, perhaps even new understanding of the Epic.
Narrative mood aims at the following: “one can tell more or tell less what one
tells, and one can tell it according to one point of view or another” (Genette
1980:161-162). A narrative may choose to give detailed information to its
readers, or choose to withhold some information deliberately; this information
may be given in a direct or an indirect way, thereby keeping the reader at a
closer or further distance. And in the final instance, characters in the narrative
give information according to a particular perspective or point of view. In short:
mood pertains to narrative distance and to narrative perspective.
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2.2.1. Distance
Genette (1980:162-164) discusses the classical tradition that made a distinction
between mimesis and diegesis. The later Anglo American theorists called this
distinction showing and telling, or direct and indirect speech. Mimesis imitates
reality, diegesis only describes it.
for Genette there can be no
imitation or mimesis in narrative art, but only an illusion of mimesis (Genette
1980:164). Dramatic presentations, for example in live performances (theatre
or cinema) are true mimeses, but a narrative can only aim at telling its story in
a lively and vivid manner.
Genette (1980:164)
this does not show or imitate the story:
states that “...narration,
oral or written,
and language signifies without imitating.”
is a fact of
By this statement
Genette agrees with the structuralists that the relationship between signifier
and signified is arbitrary.
So, it seems that mimesis in narrative discourse is impossible. Only degrees
of mimesis remain,
and in
this regard Genette (1980:164) distinguishes
between a narrative of events and a narrative of words.
Genette (1980:164-165) elaborates on
the traditional difference between
mimesis and diegesis by referring to a passage of Homer that is rephrased by
Plato. Traditionally a mimetic representation (like the one of Homer) is quite
informing the reader or listener about all the detail,
expressions, sound and so forth. A diegetic reformulation (like the one of
Plato) on the other hand, is much shorter, omitting descriptive detail, and is
therefore less realistic. But this distinction is illusionary, because a narrative,
whether of words or of events is always only but a narrative.
A Narrative of Events
A narrative of events is a “transcription of the (supposed) non-verbal into the
verbal” (Genette 1980:165), thus, a narrative of events is but an illusion of
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mimesis. This mimetic effect is not fixed and is also not an inherent quality of
the narrative text, but it depends on the various perceptions of the different
readers. For example, one reader may perceive the Epic of Gilgamesh as
very alive and real,
to another the same narrative
may appear distant,
strange and rather far-fetched. Genette does not elaborate on the reasons for
this difference in appreciation.
An illusion of mimesis in a narrative text is achieved by means of two factors:
“the quantity of narrative information (a more developed or more detailed
narrative) and the absence (or minimal presence) of the informer - in other
words, of the narrator” (Genette 1980:166). What he actually means is that the
illusion of mimesis in a narrative text is determined by how much is said and by
whom. A mimetic effect is created when much information is given but the
contributions of the informer are minimal. Dialogue is a very typical way to
bring about mimesis. The informer is absent, as it were, the characters
themselves are speaking. As it appeared in the previous discussion, the first
half of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) consists mainly of short dramatic scenes
and of dialogue. The narrator seems to disappear from the narrative soon after
the prologue. The reader or the listener comes right into the heart of Uruk
where Gilgamesh is harassing his people. One is immediately drawn into the
scene of hard labour, power abuse, unbridled energy and protest. From the
beginning of the point in time where the story starts, a convincing illusion of
mimesis is created by the narrative of events.
Nevertheless, in this regard it is important to note that, although the narrator
seemed to have disappeared, he did not really vanish, in fact, he is still
“present as a source,
guarantor, and organizer (sic) of the narrative,
analyst and commentator, as stylist and particularly as producer of metaphors”
(Genette 1980:167). The narrator is not passively looking on, but he or she is
actively taking part in the narrative discourse. He or she did not simply go
away, his or her presence only becomes less obvious. But he or she is still the
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one who makes use of the narrative of events to create an effect in a particular
In the case of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) the narrator chose to be present in
a very unobtrusive way. He announces himself in the first line of the prologue,
and never again. However, he manages to arrange his material skilfully and to
make the events appear alive and real. As has been said, dramatic scenes
(narratives of events) mark the first half of the Epic. In the second half of the
Epic these narratives of events are restricted to the minimum. Yet the narrator
continues with his task of arranging his material, but this time by means of
narratives of words - which are discussed in the next section.
A Narrative of Words
Once again Genette (1980:169-170) uses the example from Homer’s Iliad and
the way that Plato rephrased it to illustrate the difference between what was
traditionally known as direct and indirect speech.
Genette complicates this
matter by discerning the following types of discourse (cf also Rimmon 1976:49):
imitated discourse,
narratized (sic) discourse and transposed discourse
(Genette 1980:171-172).
Imitated or reported discourse is dialogue that is recorded by the narrator, in
other words, what used to be direct speech. Narratised discourse is dialogue
that is summarised by a conspicuous narrator - or what used to be indirect
speech. However, both Genette (1980:170) and Bal (1986:39) point out that
narratised discourse is strictly speaking no different from a narrative of events.
It becomes part of the narrative discourse and is treated just like any other
event. Transposed discourse is rather interesting as this is dialogue that the
narrator renders in an indirect way, however, still preserving the character’s
own words. This form of speech is also called free indirect speech.
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In terms of distance, imitated discourse or direct speech creates the strongest
illusion of mimesis,
the smallest distance between the reader and the
Narratised discourse on the other hand is far more diegetic by
nature and would have the reader at a greater distance. Somewhere in
between falls transposed discourse or free indirect speech.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) uses only imitated or reported discourse. True
enough, the introduction to this type of discourse is rather lengthy and usually
follows the formula ...
X pâšu ipšuma iqabbi X opened his mouth, he says
ana Y amat izakkar to Y a word he says...
... but in this regard one needs to keep ancient literary conventions in mind.
This was simply the way in which direct speech was introduced. The two other
forms of speech, narratised discourse and transposed discourse are not used
in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV).
Immediate speech is the term Genette (1980:173) uses for what used to be
called interior monologue. The reader is brought directly into the thoughts of
the character and the distance between them is eliminated. Two cases of this
type of discourse appear in the Epic of Gilgamesh: Siduri and Uta-napishtim.
Siduri sees Gilgamesh approaching from afar and thinks by herself that he may
be a murderer (X:11-13). Also Uta-napishtim sees him from afar and wonders
by himself why the Stone Things of the boat are broken, why she is sailing
without her equipment and concludes that the person who is on his way is not
one of his household (X:182-187).
in the course of Genette’s discussion it becomes clear that
immediate speech is really functional in cases where a specific character is
permanent in the narrative and the reader gains insight into why he or she does
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certain things - or why not. Siduri and Uta-napishtim are rather different. Both
these characters are new introductions into the narrative. They are part of their
own story and will go back to it soon after their brief encounter with poor
Gilgamesh. Their main role is to convince the main character that his quest for
life eternal is a futile endeavour.
The reader has enough insight into
Gilgamesh’s case; the only insight given by the immediate speech of Siduri
and Uta-napishtim is that they are baffled by his tattered appearance.
Once again it appears that the nouveau roman appropriates the device of
immediate speech far more deliberately than the roman ancien did. Neither
Siduri not Uta-napishtim tells the reader anything he or she does not know
The Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) maintains an intimate mood by keeping the
distance between the reader, the events and words in the narrative small. The
first half of the Epic consists mainly of narratives of events. These do not give
much detail,
often scenes are depicted in short and abrupt poetic lines.
Nevertheless, this does not seem to make these events less real. On the
contrary, the narrator skilfully succeeds in maintaining the illusion of mimesis
by enhancing the impression of intense and focused action. There is simply no
time for unnecessary detail.
The second half of the Epic consists mainly of narratives of words, only in the
form of imitated or reported speech.
Dialogues are long,
often giving the
impression of being monologues. This is especially obvious in the cases where
Gilgamesh verbalises his sorrow about his departed friend: to Shamash, to
the Scorpion people, to Siduri, to Urshanabi and to Uta-napishtim. There are
many repetitions that verge upon redundancy.
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Yet because these dialogues are imitated or reported discourse, they also
create an alive and a present mood: these are the actual words that were
spoken by the characters themselves. Regardless of how long and drawn out,
or how short and abrupt these speeches were, the narrator did not tamper with
what was said or with how it was said. The characters speak for themselves.
2.2.2. Focalisation
(Mieke Bal (1986:108-123) has elaborated extensively on the matter of
focalisation. This chapter in her work, De Theorie van Vertellen en Verhalen is
highly recommended. However, in the discussion which is about to follow, it
will become clear that most of the categories of focalisation are far too
sophisticated to be applied to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
completeness they will be discussed,
For the sake of
but in a very brief manner.
Nevertheless, the whole matter of focalisation is important, and cannot be
omitted completely.)
Culler (in his foreword to Genette 1980:10) observes:
“Insistence on the
difference between narration and focalization (sic) is a major revision of the
theory of point of view.” Traditionally point of view used to pertain to categories
such as first-person or third-person narratives,
or subjective/objective
narratives. The narrator was either present as a character in the narrative (a
first-person or subjective narrative), or he/she was merely telling the story of
someone else (a third-person or objective narrative). The question one needed
to answer was: from whose point of view is this story being told?
recent literary theorists propose that this distinction is rather
misleading because it suffers “from a regrettable confusion between what I call
here mood and voice, a confusion between the question who is the character
whose point of view orients the narrative perspective? and the very different
question who sees? and the question who speaks?” (Genette 1980:186). Bal
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(1986:110) is perhaps more clearly than Genette in this regard. She simply
states: “A vertelt dat B ziet wat C doet.” A tells that B sees what C does.
Now the whole matter of perspective or point of view becomes quite
complicated. The concern is no longer about a first-person or third-person
narrative, but from whose point of view the events or actions are perceived.
This is called focalisation.
Of course, there are narratives with zero focalisation - or
narratives. This corresponds to a narrative with an omniscient narrator who
knows more than any of the characters. Many classical narratives use this
style, however, if one reads very closely, zero focalisation is not really
sustained throughout: the case is rather that the device of focalisation is not
exploited in the same manner as the nouveau roman.
Genette (1980:189) distinguishes two types of focalisation in a narrative:
(i) Narrative with internal focalisation of which the focalisation may be fixed or
When the focalisation is fixed,
the whole story is told from the
perspective of only one of the characters; variable focalisation has different
focal characters in the same story; and multiple focalisation has the same story
told from the different perspectives of several characters. The narrator who is
focalising through the eyes of one or more of the characters, knows only as
much as the character does, no more, no less.
(ii) Narrative with external focalisation. Spy narratives often focalise in this
way. The character, usually the hero, knows much more than the narrator is
willing to disclose.
Usually (but not necessarily) narratives vary in the way the narrator chooses to
These variations in point of view are called alterations (Genette
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1980:194-197). These can also be described as momentary infractions.
Genette distinguishes between paralipses and paralepses.
Paralipsis is the usual type of internal focalisation. Some important information
- an action or a thought - on the part of the focal hero is withheld, in other
words, less information than is necessary is given to the reader.
is the opposite case of focalisation that can be external or internal. In this case
the reader is supplied with more information than is necessary.
These types of focalisations are usually appropriated to regulate the
information in a narrative text. Perhaps Genette (1980:198) sums it up best in
his own words: “Narrative always says less than it knows, but it often makes
known more than it says.”
Polymodality is the last type of focalisation Genette (1980: 198-211) discusses.
Polymodality pertains to autobiographical narratives in which the narrator is
supposed to be the one who focalises. But in post-modern novels focalisation
by the narrator as hero-character of his or her own story, or as real author in
the sense of an omniscient narrator, becomes blurred.
Thus, as it was pointed out right at the beginning of this section, the whole
concept of focalisation is far better appropriated by the nouveau roman than by
the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV).
this ancient Epic does contain
focalisations through the eyes of some of the very minor characters,
pertain mostly to the perception of either Enkidu or Gilgamesh. The hunter
sees Enkidu and becomes frightened because he perceives him as a savage
beast (I:96-103); the animals see Enkidu and they run away because they
perceive him as a human being, no longer as one of their kind (I:180). Ishtar
sees Gilgamesh (tablet IV) and is overcome with passionate desire. Siduri
sees him and perceives him as a murderer (X:10-13); Uta-napishtim sees him
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and recognises him as a stranger (X:182-187). But these focalisations appear
rather naïve and not really of great significance.
What is startling though, is the focalisation that is embedded in the very first
line or the prologue (Parpola’s 1997 transliteration): Of the Deep that he saw, I
must tell the land. Even the incipit of George (2003:539) hints strongly at
focalisation: He who saw the Deep...
A tells that B saw something.
Initially the Epic of Gilgamesh appears as a narrative that is being told mainly
from the perspective of an omniscient narrator, therefore a narrative that
contains zero focalisation, typical of classical narratives. But everything
changes if one realises that what is being told, is that which he - Gilgamesh saw. Gilgamesh is the one who saw, who focalised in the first place. The
object of his focalisation is the Deep - or everything according to some
This Deep/everything pertains to his life and the wisdom he
he acquires wisdom only after he brings his life into
perspective, only after he perceives and re-interprets the narrative of his life.
In this way the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) becomes a process of focalisation.
From the top of the walls of Uruk the narrator is telling but also re-focalising the
life of Gilgamesh. He is inviting the reader to do the same. Together they look
at the life of the arrogant young king who fearlessly defies men, gods and
monsters. They see the agony Gilgamesh goes through when Enkidu dies.
And they perceive the futility of the quest for life eternal. Somehow telling and
seeing becomes totally blurred. The narrator of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV)
cleverly disguised focalisation as narrative, thereby confusing who is seeing
and who is telling in a challenging way.
Long time ago, from the top of these very walls, Gilgamesh also focalised his
life. The Deep becomes the narrative of his life as he focalises it through tears
of grief and shame. Despite killing monsters and defying the great gods in his
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youth, his behaviour as king was not exactly honourable. He disintegrated
completely when he was confronted with failure and loss. Yet, somehow back
at the walls of Uruk, he manages to pull himself together. He focalised, he
saw the Deep; now he realises that he must go on, but not in the way that he
used to. Focalisation brings insight and wisdom.
Narrator is usually the term that is used for the one who tells (Rimmon-Kenan
1983:88), but once again Genette (1980:212) perceives the matter of telling in
broader sense and uses the term voice to refer to the narrating instance, “the
mode of action...of the verb considered for its relations to the subject...”
subject may be the person who does the narrating, but it may also be the one
who does the reporting, in fact, subject pertains to every one who participates
in the narrating activity, even passively. Of course one needs to keep in mind
that there is a relationship between the act of narrating (telling) and the
instance of narrating (narrator) who is performing the action. Consequently
critics often mistakenly identify the “narrating instance with the instance of
writing, the narrator with the author and the receiver of the narrative with the
reader of the work” (Genette 1980:213).
Genette (1980:213-214) makes it quite clear that the narrating instance differs
from the writing instance.
The real author - the writing instance - is closely
involved in the action of writing, however, the narrating instance has a fictive
role, even if the real author decides to play this part. Bal (1986:124-125) points
out that narrating instance pertains to a linguistic instance, and its function is
purely textual. The narrating instance has nothing to do with a real person in
the sense of someone who is telling his or her personal story, even if this
narrative is an autobiography. It is very important to realise that one cannot
make any assumptions about the narrating instance outside of the text, even if
he or she happens to be the real author and one happens to know some
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personal detail. So, the narrating instance or voice is the instance who - or
rather which - is telling, it is a linguistic construct performing a textual function.
Voice in narrative discourse has a relationship to the following three elements:
time of narrating, narrative level and “person” (Genette 1980:215). These
elements are in fact closely intertwined and function simultaneously, they are
only being separated for the purposes of analysis.
2.3.1. Time of narrating
The narrating instance is in a particular position with respect to the story events
that it is reporting: “I can very well tell a story without specifying the place
where it happens, and whether this place is more or less distant from the place
where I am telling it; nevertheless, it is almost impossible for me not to locate
the story in time with respect to my narrating act, since I must necessarily tell
the story in the present, past, or future tense”, (Genette 1980:215). So,
restated and oversimplified: is the voice, the narrating instance telling its story
in the present, past or future tense?
Obviously and quite logically one may assume that events can only be reported
only after they had happened, therefore in the past tense (Rimmon-Kenan
Genette (1980:217) complicates this logical assumption by
designating four temporal possibilities with regard to the distance between the
actual time of the story events and the time that they are reported: subsequent
narrating; prior narrating; simultaneous narrating and interpolated narrating.
Subsequent narrating
This is the classical past- tense narrative. Most narratives are written in this
style, namely in the past tense.
The story events and the act of narrating
appear to correspond temporally, because the past tense is used for both.
Usually the interval between the occurrence of the events and the narrating is
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not indicated, and usually it is not important to know this. Genette (1980:220)
calls this an “ageless past”.
Indeed, subsequent narrating in the Epic of Gilgamesh does convey something
of an “ageless past”. The voice or narrating instance reports that it is about to
tell of the things of ancient times. And the narrating instance uses mostly the
preterite tense, but quite often also the praesens.
Genette (1980:220-221)
notes that some narratives, although they are written as subsequent narrating,
do make use of the present tense, either at the beginning or at the end.
Especially when the praesens is used at the end of the narrative, the effect is
that the temporal interval between story time and narrating time seems to
lessen, and a convergence between the two seems to take place. Also on a
diegetical level a convergence seems to occur between the story and its
Indeed, the last lines of the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) (XI:314-320) are written
in the praesens, the words that Gilgamesh speaks to Urshanabi the boatman.
The dramatic effect of the convergence between story time and narrating time,
and of story and its narrator is enhanced by the fact that Gilgamesh at the end
uses the same words that the anonymous narrator used at the beginning of the
narrative. As it was pointed out in the section on analepsis and prolepsis,
present, past and future merge in a striking and significant way.
the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) is not really concerned about temporal
durations or intervals. These convergences - of present and past, of story and
its narrator - happen on the walls of Uruk. In this regard place is far more
significant than time. In the beginning of the narrative, the voice, the narrator
starts to tell the story of Gilgamesh from the walls of Uruk, and right at the end
of the narrative, once again back on the walls of Uruk the voice becomes the
voice of Gilgamesh who is telling his own story. In this Epic it is not only a
temporal aspect that brings past and present together, but also a matter of
locality, or place. The whole poem is enclosed by the walls of Uruk.
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Prior narrating
Very few narratives are written throughout in the style of prior narrating, as it is
very difficult to sustain this way of narrating from the beginning to the end of
narrative discourse (Genette 1980:219-220). Prior narrating is the characteristic
style of prophetic and apocalyptic literature,
but if it does occur in other
narrative genres, it is usually narratives on a second level and mainly in the
form of prolepses.
Prolepses in the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) have been
discussed in the previous section of this chapter (cf2.1.1b).
Simultaneous narrating
These are narratives written in the present tense and are according to Genette
the simplest.
Although most of the dialogues in the Epic of
Gilgamesh (SBV) are written in the praesens,
the preterite is the tense that
dominates; the use of the praesens seems to be more a matter of convention
than fulfilling a particular function in the narrative.
Interpolated narrating
Interpolated narrating is the most complex style of the four. Narrating and story
alternate in such a way that the story has an effect on the narrating (Genette
1980:217). This is especially the case in epistolary novels where, as we
know, the letter is at the same time both a medium of the narrative and an
element in the plot.
This type of narrating has no bearing on the Epic of
Gilgamesh (SBV).
2.3.2. Narrative levels
Drastically oversimplified,
narrative levels pertain to a story within a story.
Some confusion exists with regards to the terminology that the different critics
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use to designate these different levels. Rimmon-Kenan (1983:91) refers to
subordination relations
for which she uses the term hypodiegetic levels.
Genette (1980:228) prefers the term metadiegetic for narratives on a different
level from the diegetic one. In his later work (Genette 1988:87) he explains that
the so-called primary narrative is not necessarily the most important one. In
fact, it may be the case that the so-called secondary narratives are far more
significant and functional than the primary one.
hypodiegetic is not really suitable,
Therefore the term
because hypodiegetic does imply a
relationship of subordination. So, by using the term metadiegetic, he simply
systemises the traditional concept of embedded narratives. And he (Genette
1980:228) stresses that the relationship between primary and secondary levels
of diegesis is one of dependency, not one of hierarchy.
Genette (1980:228) states: “We will define this difference in level by saying that
any event a narrative recounts is at a diegetic level immediately higher than the
level at which the narrating act producing this narrative is placed.”
definition is rather unclear,
therefore a short explanation will be given.
narrator is either part of the story events he/she is recounting, or not involved
at all. In the last case, a narrator who stands outside of the story events, is on
an extradiegetic level. A narrator who is involved in the story, reports on an
intradiegetic level.
Thus, diegesis denotes the narrative, and a narrator is
either outside or inside a particular diegetic level.
When an intradiegetic narrator tells a story at a different or deeper diegetic
level, a secondary narrative is created on a metadiegetic level. As regards the
terms extradiegetic, diegetic and metadiegetic, one must not assume that it is
obvious that extradiegetic pertains to story - or to historical existence - and
diegetic or metadiegetic
further from the truth.
to fiction (Genette 1980:230).
Nothing could be
Even a real author who assumes the role of an
extradiegetic narrator, has a fictive role.
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Metadiegetic narrative
Metadiegetic narrative, a story within a story, or mise en abyme is a very old
technique that Genette (1980:231-234)
traces back to Books IX-XII in the
Odyssey. But long before the Odyssey the Epic of Gilgamesh (SBV) used the
same technique by inserting the Atrahasis Epic - the recount of the Deluge into the primary narrative of Gilgamesh’s story. This is absolutely a pure form
of a metadiegetic narrative: Uta-napishtim, who is actually a character in the
primary narrative becomes the narrator of the secondary one in which
Gilgamesh is the narratee.
Genette (1980:232) differentiates three main types of relationships that connect
the metadiegetic narrative to the main one into which it is inserted:
i) Direct causality.
In other words, there is a causal relationship between the first and the second
narrative. Characters and/or events on the second narrative level explain why
something on the first level of diegesis happened or did not happen.
narrative on the second level explains “what events have led to the present
situation” (Genette 1980:232). The function of the narrating instance is to link
the two narratives together and it does so by making the direct causal
relationship obvious.
ii) A thematic relationship (Genette 1980:233).
There is no temporal or spatial connection between diegesis and metadiegesis.
The relationship is purely thematic which may be a relationship of contrast of
one of analogy. The Atrahasis Epic that is embedded in the Epic of Gilgamesh
has greater significance, but temporally there is no connection: Uta-napishtim’s
story happened a long time ago that is before and during the Deluge. Spatially
there is also no connection: Gilgamesh wishes to live forever in his city, Uruk:
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Uta-napishtim used to live in Surripak as a mortal, but now he lives for ever
beyond the Waters of Death.
The relationship between the two narratives is one of contrast: Uta-napishtim
managed to gain life eternal, but Gilgamesh needs to come to terms with the
reality that he is going to die. This indirect relationship between the narrating
instance of the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Atrahasis Epic is effected by the
narratives themselves.
iii) No explicit relationship.
In this case no causal or thematic relationship exists between the diegesis and
the metadiegesis. Metadiegetic content does not matter at all, but it is the act
of narrating itself that fulfils a function in the diegesis (Genette 1980:233). The
most classic example of metadiegetic narratives of this type is A Thousand and
One Nights. Scheherezade has to tell a different story every night in order to
keep the king interested and to save her life. The functions of these kinds of
narratives are usually distraction or obstruction.
At this point one may question the Shamhat-Enkidu episode that starts with the
creation of Enkidu and ends where Enkidu and Gilgamesh meet.
speaking this is not really a metadiegetic narrative because the narrator who is
telling the story is the same narrator of the primary one. Yet, the first narrative
is interrupted, not by means of an analepsis or a prolepsis, but with a different
narrative that occurs simultaneously with the primary one. It introduces its own
main character, Enkidu. Is this a causal relationship? Yes, but in this case the
primary narrative caused the events on the second one to take place, therefore
one may perhaps term this relationship as an inverted causal one. Then, at a
certain point in time the two narratives do blend to become one primary
narrative with its two main characters: Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
Enkidu’s death he is not forgotten - on the contrary!
Even after
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In this case one may conclude that, although the Enkidu-narrative interrupts the
narrative of Gilgamesh-proper (after all, Gilgamesh was carrying on with his
reign of terror in Uruk whilst Enkidu was peacefully roaming the plains), this is
still part of the Gilgamesh-narrative. The narrator simply needs to explain who
Enkidu is, where did he come from, and why must he be there. Therefore, the
Enkidu-narrative seems to be a secondary narrative that overtakes the existing
primary narrative temporarily to become a primary one in its own right. Only
when it catches up with the narrative of Gilgamesh, one is baffled: exactly
what is primary and/or secondary?
Enkidu is a hero. Unlike Uta-napishtim whose introduction is brief and whose
disappearance is equally sudden, Enkidu remains an important character until
the bitter end. His life as well as his death influences just about everything that
happens on the first level of diegesis. Somehow a temporal intertwining takes
place. The narratives of Gilgamesh and Enkidu start off separately, then they
become enmeshed.
Even after Enkidu is supposed to disappear from the
story, he is present. His death motivates the theme of the second half of the
Epic: the quest for life eternal.
Both Gilgamesh and Enkidu have a narrative. They met, and their narratives
interlocked. They became so much part of each other’s story that the critic
cannot determine what is primary, secondary, diegetic or metadiegetic. And
somehow Genette’s (1980) analyses do not really help to solve this problem.
Perhaps one must conclude that just as inseparable as the narratives of
Gilgamesh and Enkidu, were the two friends themselves - in life and in death.
Genette (1980:234-235) uses the term narrative metalepsis for “any intrusion
by the extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe (or by
diegetic characters into a metadiegetic universe, etc.)...[that] produces an effect
of strangeness that is either comical...or fantastic.” This happens when the
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boundaries between the different narrative levels are disturbed (cf also Genette
1988:88), for example when a real author or a real reader introduces himself or
herself into the fictive world of the narrative, or vice versa, when a fictive
character introduces itself into the world of the author or the reader. “The world
in which one tells becomes the world of which one tells” (Genette 1980:236).
Especially post-modern literature is very aware of a reality out there and a
reality on paper and exploits this realisation to the utmost. Ontological
boundary is the term that indicates the separation between the world outside of
the text (the real world), and the world of the text (cf McHale 1987:201). Real
authors are consciously aware of the fact that they are transgressing an
ontological boundary when they transpose themselves and their personal
experience of writing this particular novel into this particular novel. He or she
may even take a break from the novel, does something else – to take a
vacation for a week or so,
or to go shopping for groceries.
Likewise a
character of the world of the text, may remind the real author that he or she
has the power to kill off any character that happens to be in disfavour within the
next few lines. Self-consciousness is the key word in this regard: the author
knows that he/she is entering the world on paper, and the characters know that
they are transgressing their boundaries of text.
The Epic of Gilgamesh does not transcend ontological boundaries in this
dramatic way. However, the narratee does get the uncanny feeling of crossing
some sort of reality at the narrator’s personal invitation to climb on top of the
walls of Uruk and admire the surroundings (I:11-17).
Sure enough,
narratee never becomes a character but neither does the narrator.
narrator and narratee remain spectators, witnesses of a real life drama that is
playing off in front of their very eyes. Somehow the world of which is told
becomes the world in which is being told.
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2.3.3. Person
On reaching this last section of Genette’s Narrative Discourse (1980), one
starts to realise that the heading Character is not going to appear. Nowhere
does Genette discuss matters like flat or round characters, character
development or any other special criteria that may be applied to character. Is
this a shortcoming in Genette’s model, or are there reasons for this omission?
Apparently for Genette character is so much interwoven into the structural
devices of the narrative discourse that a separate category would be
unnecessary. Character seems to
fuse into denotations of narrator and
narratee (discussion follows), into matters like focalisation (cf 2.2.2 of this
chapter) and so forth. In other words, character is structured by the various
devices of the narrative. Mimetic or emotional attributes are strictly shunned.
The character finds himself or herself somewhere inside or outside a particular
narrative level, partaking either actively or passively in aspects of tense, mood
and voice. Thus, it appears that Genette regards character as being
incorporated sufficiently by his other categories, therefore it does not deserve a
special heading.
Genette (1980:243-244) describes the usual terms first person - or third-person
narrative as “inadequate, in that they stress variation in the element of the
narrative situation that is in fact invariant - to wit, the presence (explicit or
implicit) of the ‘person’ of the narrator.” A narrator can be present in his or her
narrative only in the first person: the author or the novelist may choose to have
a story told by one of its characters, or by a narrator outside of it. For a
narrator who occupies a position outside of the story he or she is telling,
Genette (1980:245) uses the term heterodiegetic, and for a narrator who is
also a character in the story, he uses the term homodiegetic.
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The narrator’s status is defined both by narrative level (i.e. extra- or
intradiegetic) and by its relationship to the narrative (Genette 1980:245).
There are four basic types of a narrator’s status:
extradiegetic – heterodiegetic
extradiegetic – homodiegetic
intradiegetic - heterodiegetic
intradiegetic – homodiegetic
The narrator in the Epic of Gilgamesh is obviously an extradiegetic one who
occupies a heterodiegetic position with respect to the narrative.
completely absent from the story he is telling - that is,
He is
until one gets the
sudden and overwhelming impression that the narrator is actually Gilgamesh
who is telling his own story. However, this only happens in the last lines of the
Epic, and until then the narrator remains an extradiegetic - heterodiegetic one.
On a metadiegic level, that is on the level of the narrative of the Deluge, Utanapishtim becomes the narrator of his own story. He is thus a narrator with an
intradiegetic-homodiegetic status. However,
Genette (1980:245) points out
that not all narrators are equally present in the story that they tell. A narrator
can either be the hero of his or her own story, or merely be a witness or
observer of someone else’s story. Hero-narrators of the homodiegetic kind,
Genette calls autodiegetic. Utnapishtim is the undisputable hero of his own
thus becoming a narrator with an autodiegetic intradiegetic -
homodiegetic status.
The primary function of the narrator is of course to tell the story. But once
again Genette (1980:255) points out that this matter is far more complicated
than it seems at first sight. The functions of the narrator are connected to
several aspects of narrative.
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As it was said, the first and obvious aspect of narrative is the story to be told.
The function connected to the story is the narrative function - to tell. In the Epic
of Gilgamesh, the narrator tells the story of Gilgamesh. The narrative text is
the second aspect of a narrative. The function of the narrator in this regard is
metalinguistic, which pertains to the internal organisation of the text by means
of articulations, connections and interrelations. This has to do with the way in
which the story material is arranged, and how the matters of time, mood and
voice are appropriated. The narrating situation is the third aspect of narrative.
The narrator and the narratee - present, absent or implied - are involved,
because the function of the narrator is to establish or to maintain a relationship
with the narratee. Genette (1980:256) also calls this function the function of
communication. It has been said that the narrator of the Epic of Gilgamesh
tries to establish this relationship at the very beginning of his act of narrating:
apparently he assumes that this relationship will be maintained throughout the
narrative discourse because he never refers to the narratee again, except for
that open invitation in the beginning of the Epic.
The last function is the testimonial function, or the function of attestation. This
function pertains to the relationship the narrator has with the story that he/she
is telling and concerns his or her emotions. The nature of this relationship is
affective, but could also be a moral or an intellectual one. “But the narrator’s
interventions, direct or indirect, with regard to the story can also take the more
didactic form of an authorized (sic) commentary on the action.
This is an
assertion of what could be called the narrator’s ideological function; (Genette
1980:256), and this last function certainly pertains to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
He witnesses the foolish behaviour of the immature braggart, he empathises
with the loss of a dear comrade and friend, and he even partakes in the whole
futile quest for life eternal in a very emotional manner. Never does he judge
which of these actions are morally acceptable and which are not. He leaves it
to the narratee who is witnessing along with him to decide for himself of herself.
However, he also witnesses at the end that Gilgamesh’s life did not work out
in the way that he wished. His people were not happy with his arrogance. His
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best friend died.
He failed two vital tests and came to the depressing
realisation that he is not going to obtain life eternal, no matter how hard he
tries. And this hard lesson is not told by means of didactic instructions that
have to be memorised. It is done by means of telling a story.
Genette (1980) does not devote many pages to the role of the narratee with
regards to the narrative. Only the last three pages of his book pertain to this
person. Obviously he does not really say very much. “Like the narrator, the
narratee is not one of the elements in the narrating situation, and he (sic) is
necessarily located at the same diegetic level; that is, he does not merge a
priori with the reader (even an implied reader) any more than the narrator
necessarily merges with the author” (Genette 1980:259). From this follows a
relationship of correspondence: an intradiegetic narrator would correspond to
an intradiegetic narratee,
whilst an extradiegetic narrator addresses an
extradiegetic narratee. The Epic of Gilgamesh starts with the latter case: both
narrator and narratee are extradiegetic with regards to the diegetic level of the
narrative. But within the metadiegetic narrative Uta-napishtim (a character on
the primary level of diegesis) becomes the narrator of his own story as he
addresses Gilgamesh (also a character on the primary level of diegesis) who
now becomes the narratee on the second level of diegesis. And so forth.
in terms of the didactic,
moral and ideological implications (cf
previous discussion), the narrative does not end with the return of Gilgamesh
to the walls of Uruk. At the end of the narrative the narratee is witnessing a life
style that does not work. However, somehow Gilgamesh must have achieved
success - it says so in the beginning of the narrative. With this knowledge it is
now up to the narratee to muster all his or her creative abilities and write his or
her own narrative: a narrative of what really makes sense in life. And all this is
done in a very indirect and subtle way: once again, by means of telling a story,
this time his or her own.
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Discussion of the Epic in terms of Genette’s model
One has to admit that Genette’s model is rather sophisticated and not all of its
components apply to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
some interesting
features did come to light. It appeared that the ancient author was not really
concerned about exact points in time, therefore many observances on time
(i.e. order, duration and frequency) were inferred indirectly, rather than being
deduced from obvious textual information. For example, are Ninsun’s dreams
analepses or prolepses? In what way does the duration of Enkidu’s roaming
the plains coincide with the duration of Gilgamesh’s reign of terror in Uruk? For
how long did Gilgamesh wander around in search of everlasting life? But do
these uncertainties matter?
The category of frequency illustrated the relentless nature of the trip towards
the Cedar Forest, the urgency of having to complete the journey through the
tunnel of the (S)sun in time, and the endless depressing thoughts that occupied
Gilgamesh’s mind as he ventured in search of life eternal.
The inclusio effected by the lines I:16-21 and XI:315-320 makes the actual
duration of time irrelevant.
Time itself becomes significant in the way that
present, past and future merge exactly because specific durations are omitted.
The criteria of timelessness, agelessness and universal meaning are those of
the New Critics: however, the Epic of Gilgamesh becomes timeless, ageless
and universal in a striking manner.
It pertains to the past, present and future
of everyone who was or is serious about the meaning of life.
Mood illustrated the intimate and lively way in which the narrator tells his story.
Intense dramatic scenes alternating with dialogue in the form of reported
speech mark the first half of the Epic. In the second half of the Epic, imitated
or reported speech dominate, often so drawn out that these dialogues create
the impression of being the same monologue, repeated over and over. But
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Gilgamesh is driven by his grief over the death of his friend and by his own fear
for death.
Reported speech stresses the obsessive-compulsive nature of
Gilgamesh’s behaviour as he roams the steppe until he reaches Uta-napishtim.
Focalisation (which is a sub-category of mood) seemed straightforward at first,
until one discovers the focalisation that is embedded in the first line of the Epic.
Then one realises that this whole narrative is in fact a focalisation, a
perspective on life itself.
Voice examined the matter of the narrator and various positions the narrating
instance may occupy with regards to the various levels of diegesis. In this case
it appeared that the narrator of the Epic of Gilgamesh, although he occupies an
extra-diegetic position, is very much concerned about the story he is telling.
He remains close to the story events he is recounting and he wishes to create
the same interest in the narratee by inviting him or her into the majestic city of
Uruk. However, the didactic ideological function of the narrator is effected by
leaving the narrative open-ended, by not disclosing any final message. By
means of circular reasoning to and from Uruk, it is left to the devices of every
narratee to work out for himself or herself just how did the tear-stained and
heart-broken man at the end of the Epic become the brave and wise king of the
The Epic of Gilgamesh started confidently and proudly on the city walls of Uruk.
It ended in exactly the same manner at the same place: on the walls of Uruk.
Many events took place within these walls as well as outside of their enclosure.
Dreams were dreamt of coming events. Dreams actually came true: a
friendship was formed. There was dramatic and intensive action. The ladder of
success was being climbed rapidly, regardlessly, too urgently and too quickly
for anyone to keep up.
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Then death struck. Fear would not leave, it kept on coming back. There were
also painful memories that would not go away. The initial success story
became one of failure. From the top of the success ladder a process of
tumbling down had begun until rock bottom was hit. However, together with
shock and humiliation came insight into what life is really all about.
All the events begin and end at Uruk. This points to an important element that
is missing in Genette’s theory: he has no category for place. The reason is
fairly obvious: Genette is a structuralist. Place – whether Uruk or New York is a
literary construction, not a place that one can locate on a map. The walls of
Uruk in the beginning and at the end of the Epic serve to form a literary
structural inclusio to the Epic – such an inclusio may equally have been
effected by the highways to New York. For the structuralists the only reality is
that which appear on paper – or stone – in other words, reality is textual by
However, these sturdy city walls probably meant to the ancient author and the
ancient recipients more than a literary construct. To them they symbolised
many things: power, honour, cultural progression, civilisation, security (see
chapter 3). Furthermore, Uruk was a very special city: she represented the old
Sumerian culture, and the glory and romance associated with ancient times.
The following chapter will deal with a critique on structuralist theories in more
detail. However, these brief remarks intended to convey the following: a
structural narratological analysis does bring matters to the fore which may
otherwise be overlooked. But there are also matters that are more than literary
constructs – in the frame of reference of authors and readers alike.